Reindeer on the menu

Jay Wisniewski, owner of Tempe's Caffe Boa restaurant, looks over the Christmas-themed menu, which will feature reindeer.

Beginning what may become an annual Christmas tradition, Tempe's Caffe Boa, 398 S. Mill Ave., will be serving reindeer meat during the holiday season.

But Dancer, Donner and Santa's other antlered drivers are safe. The meat is really caribou from Alaska.

"We're not going to be serving Rudolph," said the restaurant's owner, Jay Wisniewski.

Although chefs at the trendy eatery received hate mail and death threats when they served rabbit at Easter, Wisniewski is basking in the publicity his reindeer entrees are generating.

He said the new Christmas menu item is gaining attention, and there will be a segment about it on the Carson Daly show on Monday. It also was discussed on a radio station in Iowa as University of Iowa Hawkeye fans prepare to converge in Arizona this month for the Insight Bowl. And, it made the New York-based Bloomberg Radio station's Business and Financial News.

"It's been crazy," Wisniewski said. "A lot of people have been calling and asking about it, saying that it's really good and that they remember eating it as a kid. We didn't expect the positive response that we've had."

The meat, which tastes similar to venison or bison, is North American caribou from a farm in Alaska that chef Payton Curry had connections to, Wisniewski said.

"It's tough to find," he said. "I've tried to get it before and haven't been able to. Chefs can ruin it quickly because it's super lean and dries out fast and can turn to jerky. One of our chef's sisters lives in Alaska and knows someone who has a caribou farm and raises them for eating purposes. We've gone through the process of USDA approval for serving it and having it shipped."

Although the meat isn't scheduled to arrive until Dec. 18, Wisniewski said he's excited for the restaurant to begin serving it as servers will be wearing antlers and red noses. Interested diners have called from California and Las Vegas, he said.

However, not everyone's taste buds are turned on by the prospect of eating reindeer.

"I think the last thing anyone needs is to be dining on Rudolph," said Virginia Fort, a spokeswoman for Virginia-based PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) that has about 2 million members worldwide. "It's going to be traumatizing for children whose parents are dining on Dasher, Prancer or Vixen. We are in the 21st Century, and there's so many other delicious holiday eating options. Nobody literally needs to be killing the Christmas spirit by eating the holiday's mascot. We would hope that people will take that into consideration before they forego a veggie burger for a reindeer burger."

Available at dinner, Caffe Boa's reindeer menu runs from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6. The cost for a sampling of six different dishes is $65, plus tax and tip.

Caffe Boa is open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Reservations are suggested for the reindeer meat by calling: (480) 968-9112.

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